We all know the phrase 'free as a bird'. The image of a bird gliding effortlessly through the air seems so magical and peaceful to me. I imagine how tranquil it must feel up there and envy the beautiful views they enjoy every day. It is impossible for humans to replicate the sense of freedom birds have. In my opinion, the best analogy for us humans is possessing the ability to let go of unhelpful feelings, people, limiting beliefs or anything else that stands in the way of us soaring to reach our potential.
Every single one of my clients is carrying something they would like to let go of. I can't tell you how many times I have heard a client say "I really want to let it go, but I just can't". When I ask them what the payoff is for holding on to it, their first response is usually "nothing" or "nothing good". Unless we are talking about trauma, which is far more complex and isn't part of what I am discussing here, there is always something positive you are getting from holding on to unhelpful aspects in your life.
Humans are motivated by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. Let's use anger toward someone who has wronged you in the past as an example. A potential benefit could be related to a belief that letting go of that anger means letting the person who has hurt you off the hook. The anger, in your mind, is holding them accountable for hurting you. Another potential reward for holding on to anger is using it as a shield to never get hurt again. Anger may keep you hypervigilant, ready to attack should you feel threatened again.
There is a high price to pay though for holding on to painful experiences. The person you are holding anger toward is living their life just fine. You on the other hand are serving a life sentence. Negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs you clutch onto are like invisible shackles tied to your ankles restricting your movement through life. When you let go, you free yourself from constraints and allow your body and mind to flow smoothly. Let's have a look now at what this process entails.
The first step I guide my clients through is understanding what exactly they are holding
on to. Are there any emotions that need to be felt and processed? Are there any fears that need to be understood and dealt with? Are there any limiting beliefs that need to be examined and challenged? Once they have gained a deeper understanding into what is holding them back and address the uncovered issues, I help my clients come up with
an action plan to use when these issues arise.
The action plan is individualized. Generally, every time unhelpful thoughts or emotions show up, you acknowledge and name them. Then you can make a decision where to redirect your attention. You can write in your gratitude journal and focus on the positive things that happened to you that day. You could go out for a walk and practice mindfulness. You can call a friend or watch a comedy that will make you laugh. You can blast your favorite upbeat music and start singing and dancing to it (one of my favorites!). Any activity that invites fun, relaxing and uplifting feelings can work great.
Letting go is a practice. It isn't something that happens overnight. You don't just decide one day to let go and magically, poof it's gone. Letting go is achieved by choosing time after time to let go of the unhelpful and let in the desirable. Just like you build strong muscles by lifting weights consistently, you will become better and better at the skill of letting go by practicing it regularly. When you master the skill of letting go, you can truly be as free as a bird.